- The Washington Times - Friday, December 31, 1999

Barbara Walters didn't have to pull rank to be based in Paris on New Year's Eve. The president of ABC News, David Weston, called and asked her nicely.

A true professional, Miss Walters will be in a tiny broadcast booth in the Trocadero (Paris' version of Times Square) on the stroke of midnight. She'll be reporting on 100,000 drunken Frenchmen in the immediate vicinity protesting the importation of American farm products while enjoying the heavily light-decorated Eiffel Tower's enormous digital clock counting down the millennium, followed by a spectacular fireworks display along the Champs Elysee.

Peter Jennings will direct the "ABC 2000" traffic from a studio in New York and is expected to stay awake during a 24-hour live special while reaching out to some 35 ABC News anchors and correspondents around the globe. The network's bash is part of 2000 Today, the Millennium Day Broadcast Consortium composed of broadcasters in 66 countries including England, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Italy, Israel, China, Mexico, Egypt, Russia and Japan.

Miss Walters' choice assignment was handed out in September, and she made a quick trip to Paris a few weeks ago for pre-production orientation. She also pre-taped a number of two-minute segments on local flora and fauna to drop into her broadcast segments throughout the day. Her primary responsibility is hard-nosed coverage of French food and fashion a tough job indeed, but somebody had to do it.

In her spots, the veteran reporter will wear four expensive outfits provided free of charge by leading designers Oscar de la Renta, John Galliano, Yves St. Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld. It is a coup, according to Miss Walters, "because it's very hard to get the four of them together usually, if you invite one, the other three don't want to come. And no, I didn't keep any of the clothes. A, we're not allowed to [by ABC news] and B, the prices are astronomical. Galliano's dress for Christian Dior costs $50,000. I would never spend that kind of money for a dress."

The 68-year-old co-host and executive producer of "The View," correspondent and co-anchor of "20/20" and star of "The Barbara Walters Specials" sampled some of Paris' gastronomical delights with room-service breakfast at the hotel Le Crillon, lunch at Les Deux Magots (where Jean-Paul Sartre and Ernest Hemingway used to hang out) and dinner with the U.S. ambassador to France, Felix Rohatyn, at Le Grand Vefour where Napoleon Bonaparte once broke bread (and his troops didn't).

Her sole live guest is Woody Allen, virtually a recluse in New York, and she hopes to find out why he hangs in Paris every Christmas and New Year's Eve. Is he there to party with Roman Polanski and Michael Jackson? Tour local orphanages? Plug his movie? If nothing else, Miss Walters will probe relentlessly until he confesses what his New Year's resolutions are.

When her Paris chores are done at 2 a.m. Jan. 1, Miss Walters intends to hop into the sack at her luxury hotel and stay immobile for about 12 hours.

"I'm not invited to any party, and I don't know anybody in Paris and that's fine with me," she explains. "When everything is wrapped, I'm spending a few more days in the city to relax. Among other things, I'm taking my daughter [Jacqueline] to Versailles and the Louvre. We want to see and do everything at our own pace. My high school French will have to come out full force."

The Boston-born, New York-bred Miss Walters claims she has never made a big deal of New Year's Eve.

"I've never been one to celebrate a year's passing with lots of fanfare; usually I'm with family and friends on a night most people would think is relatively quiet. It's a time when I may feel emotions, but I'm never sad because my life turned out to be fascinating and has been blessed with good health.

"But it was different in my younger days," she continues slowly. "I remember that awful adolescence … when I would go out with someone I couldn't stand, just to have a date on New Year's Eve. Thank goodness that's long past. Long, long, long past. I don't make New Year's resolutions, either, except not to work next New Year's Eve. If I hadn't been in Paris this time, I probably would have gone down to the [ABC] studios, stayed off the air and watched the events on the TV monitors with my family."

A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, she is the strong-willed daughter of legendary show-biz impresario Lou Walters the man who once ran the famed Latin Quarter nightclub with an iron fist. When hard times developed after her father suffered a heart attack, Miss Walters went to work as a secretary, then a writer for the NBC network during the early 1960s.

She doggedly worked her way up through the ranks, stopping by the CBS network before becoming the first woman to co-anchor a network news show for ABC in 1976. Between thousands of interviews with international personalities as diverse as Fidel Castro, Boris Yeltsin, Indira Gandhi, Barbra Streisand, Elizabeth Taylor, Tom Hanks and Monica Lewinsky, Miss Walters found time to marry and divorce Robert Katz, Lee Guber and Merv Adelson. She is a fiercely protective mother who raised her daughter as far from the media glare as humanly possible.

Extremely busy as she appears regularly on three shows and a host of special projects, Miss Walters has given serious thought in recent years to retirement. Her contract with ABC News is up in August a time when she begins to think about the future.

"I've worked since I graduated from college and would like to know what life is like without daily pressures," she says. "I admire Mike Wallace enormously, but I don't want to work until I'm 80 and die on an airplane."

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